Test #2 Results

Emi and MeSo, I’m back from my test run.  It didn’t go as planned – at all.  In fact, it was a rookie mistake that made the difference.

As you might recall the plan was to hike from Marshall Lake, which is just southeast of Flagstaff, around Mount Elden and into town.  A big counter-clockwise loop, if you will.  I was trying to familiarize myself with both routes around Flagstaff.  There’s a bypass and a resupply route.  Which trail you take depends on how you want to deal with the city.  Some people will want to take full advantage while others will probably just want some water and snacks.

Anyway, my plan came to a crashing halt because I made an assumption and didn’t test it out before . . .well, testing it out.  You see, there’s a pretty sizable difference between “backpacking” and “thru-hiking”.  “Of course” you might say?  Well, I said the same thing, but the reality is much starker than the thought.  I’ll compare it to the difference between mountain biking and road cycling.  Sure, both are on bikes but the actual “how to do this shit” details aren’t even remotely related.  Except for crashing – that always sucks.

So, I showed you my gear list in the last post.  For the most part that worked our perfectly.  I’m totally excited about the quilt – it saves me about 2 pounds, lots of pack volume and is toasty & comfy.  I’ll need to make sure to have a warm hat though because it’s JUST big enough for my body. I’m also getting used to my front-loading tent, the MSR Nook.  All of my previous tents were side-loading and I’m pretty sure I still prefer that, but this time the Nook did pretty well.  I don’t use the tent though; just the rain-fly and footprint.

The problems didn’t arise from my new kit.  It came about because of my footwear.  I was testing out some trail shoes rather than my standard leather boots.  For the most part, thru-hikers prefer trail shoes of some sort rather than “big, clunky boots”.  I’ve always asserted that in order to maintain happy feet you need a sturdy foot-bed to walk on.  Presumably the lighter load of a “thru-hiker” affords one the ability to select a less formidable option.  So, instead of my Vasque clod-stompers I opted for Salomon XA Pro3D trail-running shoes.  I absolutely love these shoes and have been using them on day-hikes for years.

Side note: I have some foot challenges and was prescribed some correctional inserts.

To make a long story less long the shoes, plus the inserts and my medium-weight wool socks created a way-too-tight result.  I knew it immediately when I put on my shoes (with this combination) at the trailhead FOR THE FIRST TIME!!. <<<That’s the rookie mistake I was referring to in my sentence #1 above.

You just looked up there, didn’t you?

Nevertheless, I hoped that the shoes would stretch a bit on the hike.  As fate would have it we only hiked about 2.3 miles that first day because we were running a bit late and we really just wanted to get in a few miles and camp.  So, the foot issue didn’t present itself until the next day.  We reached our objective, 10.4 miles away, by 12:30 and decided we’d had enough.  When I took my shoes off I discovered blisters in places I’d never seen.

%$#@!

Luckily I had phone reception and was able to call Tina, who was camping and waiting to meet us in Flagstaff upon completion.  Instead I asked her to pick us up at one of the next two trail/road junctions.  I decided to take the inserts out and see if that helped.  It did, but an insertless shoe also sucks, just in a different way.  I hobbled into the parking lot of the Conoco at the 89, 12.6 miles later, and basically told her that the hike was over.

We weren’t in a hurry to return to the oppressive Phoenix heat, especially since the campground was just around the corner and had a good mobile signal.  We spent the next few days lounging and hiking.

The final results include a hell of a reminder to be diligent in testing out gear before testing out gear . . .so I’m not testing gear out on the trail this fall.

Oh, and I discovered that Emi loves to ride on top of my backpack.

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Test Run #2

After my run at the Mazatzal segments I realized that I was going to need another trip or two to really refine my gear list.  Also, I might as well kill two birds with one stone – I’ll be scouting the segments around Flagstaff.

The AZT goes around Flagstaff two ways – the “re-supply” route and the “by-pass” route.  Essentially, leaving from Shultz Pass trailhead your options are to head east, around Little & Elden Peaks and crossing I-40 in east Flag.  There are some rudimentary services within walking distance, and you might even be able to call an Uber or hitch a ride into town if you wanted to.  The other trail heads west around the peaks, eventually dropping into Buffalo Park Trailhead.  From there you can wander into town and live it up!

They both circle around the Elden family of peaks to finally re-connect south of Flagstaff at Marshall Lake.  A few years ago I scouted some segments heading south from there, but oddly enough I hiked about 9 miles north from Marshall Lake on accident.  A good friend of mine was dropping me off; we’d camped a few miles from the trailhead the night before.  Anyway, I woke up super early, roused Cameron and we drove to the “lake”, the entire time the majestic San Francisco Peaks inviting me.  When we arrived  we must have gotten turned around because instead of heading south, I walked toward the peaks.

I was enjoying a beautiful hike, the entire time I was enjoying the views.  It wasn’t until about Fisher Point that I’d realized my mistake and had to hike back.  I’d blown most of the day, drank most of my water and expended a majority of my energy getting nowhere.  It is what it is.

This fall I’ll be taking the resupply route through Flagstaff.  I don’t think any other gateway town has what Flagstaff can offer with its shopping, hotels, dining and craft beer options.  I’ll also be taking a zero day here . . . because of the shopping, hotels, dining and craft beer.  I’m sure there will be other notable outposts of humanity that I’ll talk about after my trip, but for now Flagstaff is my most anticipated.

Anyway, back to the gear.  Here’s a picture of the stuff I’m taking on this test-run.  Some items may, or may not make it to my eventual kit.Gear for Around the Peaks Hike June 16

Gear List

  • Tent: MSR Nook, 2-person.  I’m only bringing the rain-fly and footprint; leaving behind the tent body.
  • Sleeping Bag:  Thermarest Corus HD Quilt
  • Sleeping Pad*:  Thermarest Neo-Air XTherm Long
  • Cook Kit:
    • MSR Micro-rocket stove
    • MSR Titanium Kettle
    • MSR Fuel canister
    • Lexan spoon (it shows the fork and the spoon, but I’m only bringing the spoon)
    • Oragami bowl
  • Water Kit
    • 2 x Platypus 2L collapsible bottles
    • 1 x widemouth plastic bottle
    • 1 x 100oz. Camelback Unbottle (I might switch this out for a bladder-only setup).
    • Steripen Traveler**
  • Solar Charging Kit
    • Phone cord
    • AA batteries (for the Steripen)
    • Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus, with the AAA battery insert.  The AAA batteries are for my headlamp
    • Goal Zero Nomad 7
  • Essentials
    • Compass (I had a discussion with some tool recently about the merits of having a compass).
    • Black Diamond Headlamp
    • 20′ x 2mm accessory cord
    • DeLorme InReach (I won’t actually be taking it on this trip, but I will for the thru-hike).
    • First Aid Kit
    • Toiletries
    • Trekking Poles
  • Backpack (the heaviest thing in my kit): Gregory Whitney 95L.
  • I’m also bringing a dry-bag for clothing, a trash-compactor bag for my sleeping quilt, and a pack cover to go over the entire thing.  Nothing’s getting wet!

*You’ll notice a closed-cell Ridgerest.  I carry this in addition to my inflatable mattress; it helps smooth out the bad rocks, acts as a seat, I can take afternoon naps without too much hassle and it’s great for kneeling down.

**I’ve used a Steripen before; I had the opportunity to enjoy water from an occupied cattle tank thanks to one.  My hesitation about a Steripen is that, like many other water purifiers/filters it’s fallible.  I don’t remember a time when SOMETHING didn’t go wrong with my water tool – except with the Steripen.  We’ll see.

I was recently told that some friends are rafting down the Colorado River in March of next year; I might be able to go.  So, needless to say I have a bit of logistical challenges coming my way in the next year . . .

 

The “why”

When I tell people that I want to hike the entire length of the Arizona Trail they invariably ask “why”.  They’re never satisfied with my usual response: “because I want to”.  In fact, that response is rather anti-climactic.  Why would anyone want to walk, constantly, for 60+ days straight?

As I sit here contemplating my reasoning I’m finding it difficult to put my thoughts into words.  I’ve wanted to thru-hike this trail even before I discovered “thru-hiking” was a thing but my initial intentions are far different than they are today.  Originally I wanted to set a speed record; now, I just want to finish.  I’m not interested in showing off or proving anything to anyone (other than to myself).

On the surface the challenge is the same.  I have to overcome myriad physical and mental obstacles, some that repeat themselves often, in order to successfully complete this hike.  But instead of trying to push myself to the limit to finish faster than anyone else ever has, I’ll be pushing myself to the limit just to finish, period.  And when you get down to the nitty-gritty of the task, this is going to hurt – a lot!

When you ask a Marine if they liked boot camp there’s always a trepidation in their answer.  The typical response is “I’d do it over, but I wouldn’t do it again”.  The reason is that boot camp is comprised of two activities – suffering and sleeping.  Kinda’ sounds like thru-hiking to some extent.

So what does all of this mean and why would I want to do something that seems to just be a bunch of suffering?  The answer is simple – I won’t be suffering.  I’ll be walking through beautiful country, at my own pace, with no other soul to serve.  I won’t have to satisfy anyone else’s needs, except maybe for my dog if I bring one.  I’ll bet to spend so much time in the back country that my rhythms will start to match the earth’s.  I’ll only have one to focus on – safe forward movement.

Don’t get me wrong – my life doesn’t suck.  On the contrary, I tend to consider myself rather lucky.  What I mean is that I’m not running from, or escaping, anything . . . I’m running toward something.  Ideally I’ll discover inner peace and enlightenment; failing that I’ll just have a grand time walking across Arizona, sole to soul.

The Plan, thus far.

As I sit here about to write this blog, I already know that this is post in vain.  You see, I’m about to outline my proposed itinerary.  There are some key events that take place while I’ll be on the hike and I’m curious about where I’ll be during them.  The two primary dates I’m worried about are T.I.T.S. and Thanksgiving.

For those of you who don’t know, T.I.T.S. is an annual pilgrimage into the Superstition mountains to celebrate Thanksgiving.  It happens about 2 weeks before the actual holiday.  This is our 12th annual event; it’s a pot-luck event where everyone hauls a full thanksgiving feast into the woods.  In years past we’ve roasted full turkeys, pheasants and hams over the fire.  One year we even pit-roasted a turkey.  I’m hoping to be able to roll through during my hike and use the event as a re-supply opportunity.

The real Thanksgiving is another date that I’ll be watching – I want to spend it with Tina, ideally in a private, luxury setting.  Depending on my pace there are a few options out there but timing the reservations is going to require some effort and flexibility.  I’m really not worried about IF it’ll work out; I’m curious HOW it’s going to play out.  Stay tuned for that one.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my tentative itinerary:

On Saturday, September 24th we’ll depart Phoenix and head to the Utah border.  Along the way we’ll be caching water in a few of the known water-less stretches.  We’ll make camp somewhere convenient and complete our travel to the border trailhead the next day.  On Monday, September 26th I’ll take my first steps south as I attempt to thru-hike the 800 mile Arizona Trail.

I am expecting that this northern Kaibab plateau segment will take me about 6 days; along the trail I will be stopping at Jacob Lake for a meal, as well as connecting with Tina at our B&T camp close to the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park.  Once I arrive at the north rim I’ll have to apply for a permit.  I want to spend my first zero day at the bottom of the Grand Canyon at Bright Angel Campground and hopefully a dinner at Phantom Ranch.  On day 9 I’ll hike out via the South Kaibab trail and on to Tusayan for my first stay in a hotel and my first mail drop resupply, 16.3 miles later.

Leaving Tusayan I’ll make my way over the most notorious water-stressful segment (as if the rest of the trail isn’t).  This is the segment that Tina and I will have stashed water on our way up.  I’ll pass by the fire-watch tower at Grandview, head south into pristine forest past Russel Tank, the ruins of the Moqui Stage Stop, and over the ranges of the historic CO Bar ranch.  Then I’ll start my long, but steep, climb to some remote range land and eventually into Flagstaff.

I plan on taking the re-supply route into town; I also plan on taking another zero day.  Depending on how I feel, I might even take TWO zero days!  I love Flagstaff and this is the biggest town the trail actually goes through.  I’ll re-supply, drink beer, clean myself and gear, drink beer, eat great food and enjoy the local craft breweries.  Get my point.  Hopefully I can convince Tina (and friends . . .hint, hint) to come up and visit.  I promise I’ll shower before you see me.

After Flagstaff it’s a nice mellow, but long push to the edge of the Mogollon Rim.  I’m expecting to be able to average about 15 miles a day for the next 8 days as I push past Mormon Lake and on to Pine.  I am really looking forward to Pine as well.  It’s the home of THAT Brewery and Sidewinders.  I’ll be doing a “store-based” resupply here and staying in the campground.  I’ll be pushing on the next day with my target being the LF Ranch.  This is a working cattle ranch in the Mazatzal Mountains.  They have a bunk-house and serve a great dinner.  I’ll also be counting on them for a mail-drop as well.  Again, depending on how I feel and my pace, I might be taking a layover day here.

The next 113 miles will take me past the rest of the rugged (as $#%@!) Mazatzals, under the shadow of Four Peaks, to the marina at Roosevelt Lake (for another mail drop) and on to Reavis Ranch – the site of this year’s T.I.T.S.  I am planning on taking three zero days at the ranch.  This is also where I’m factoring in some flex-time.  If I am behind schedule then this gap will increase my odds of being on time for that Saturday’s festivities.  That Sunday I’ll hike out with everyone and resupply at the trailhead; I’m sure someone will volunteer to drive a box of stuff to me.

The trail immediately drops down into the desert and ribbons to the Picket Post trailhead at Superior.  I won’t be staying or stopping in Superior; instead I’ll have a long, 7 day push to get to Oracle.  I’ve done some of this route and it’s actually a really nice segment.  There are some water caches along the way so hopefully they’ll be stocked when I go through.  Or, maybe I can head out a couple days prior to my departure to set a few bottles in a few key locations . . . we’ll see.

I am planning on staying overnight in Oracle.  I’m not sure where, but it’s a neat town and I am looking forward to checking it out.  I won’t be taking a layover day though.  I’ll head out the next day and get as far as I can.  Along the way I’ll pass very close to Tucson.  I’m hoping to hitch a ride or call an Uber to get me into town for my second to last layover/resupply day.  Back on the trail I’ll hike according to the water schedule, eventually (possibly) staying at Colossal Cave or at the ranch with Tina.  This is where I expect to be during Thanksgiving.  I’m not sure what will actually transpire but I’m sure I’ll update you as events unfold.  No doubt you’ll be pinned to the blog waiting to read all about it.

The last week will take me past Patagonia and on to the border.  If I haven’t worn out my welcome from Tina she’ll come get me and we’ll make the long drive back to the real world, on or about December 1st.

Well, that’s my best laid plan . . . we’ll see how it goes.

A hiking blog about hiking blogs

There is no shortage of blogs about thru-hikes.  It would seem that everyone wants to tell you about their experience . . . which is a good thing.  I’ve been reading more blogs about hikers attempting long-distance trails and there seems to be a common theme: how brutally challenging these hikes are.

The last one I read was about a lady that had set too ambitious of a schedule and it was weighing on her.  Another one  talked about how unprepared they were and how it really caused some problems within the group.  One author was dismayed at how mentally draining the endeavor was.  Not all of them were hiking the Arizona Trail, but the sentiments translate.

As I make my plans for my hike I often dream of prancing through idyllic forests, gazing out over majestic landscapes in iconic locations.  I imagine taking naps next to babbling brooks or sitting comfortably watching sunsets.  In short, I think of the good moments rather than worry about the challenges.

Don’t think I haven’t considered the challenges.  In fact, I think all I’ve written about so far are some of the challenges – my back, my weight, my fitness, nutrition, hydration, etc.  I even wrote about how planning is important but the need to be flexible is paramount.  But what I haven’t really spoken about is the “why” I’m doing this hike.

As you might recall, my first foray into “The Wild” was when I ran away with Anthony in 6th grade.  Sure I had gone camping with my family as a kid, but that wasn’t wild, that was family.  When I got that first little taste of fear and freedom I was hooked.  Now, as a solo backpacker I don’t get fearful, I get excited.  I still feel the freedom though. In fact, it’s that freedom that I crave the most.

When I go backpacking I don’t have to please anyone except myself (and whichever poor lucky dog that gets to join me).  I can sleep in; I can hike without taking breaks; I can hike for hours after my intended stop time “just because”, or I can pull up early at a camp spot just because I like the view & access to water.  The only thing I have to do is live.

Reading these blogs has given me some great perspective though.  Knowing that I’m going to start off slow and work into my “trail legs” will help me get past that first brutal week.  I’m aware that at about day 14 there will be nothing I can do to slake my hunger.  I’m infatuated with the idea that for 8-12 hours a day I’ll be burning more calories than I can carry and will be inclined to lose weight.  I’m also looking forward to stopping into the gateway communities for hamburgers, pizza and beer KNOWING it won’t hurt my boyish figure.

All of these reasons, and more, are why I’m really looking forward to (rather than truly dreading) the hike.

I know it will be good for my soul.

Best laid plans

The practice hike went wonderfully, albeit miserably.  I was hoping to hike sections 22-28, from Sunflower, through Pine, and on top of the rim past Blue Ridge Reservoir.  What happened instead is that I slogged up a steep, long, rocky, brush covered mountain for 6 days, 2 of which WERE’NT in a driving rain/sleet.

20160407_130402
Where’s the trail?

I always tell my wife, when there’s rain in the forecast, that it’s getting to be perfect backpacking weather.  I actually didn’t mind the wet slogging, actually.  The worst part of the environmental challenges was that the mud sticks to your shoes and eventually you are stomping with 10 lb feet.  Then, unexpectedly, the mud will fly off your foot and you’ll high-kick into the air, throwing off your balance.

The worst-worst part of the rain was that my dog, Emmie, didn’t have any protection from the elements.  I felt terrible.  I don’t mind subjecting myself to hardship, but not others; and especially not an animal that wasn’t really given the heads up to prepare.  So, I’ll be buying a rain/fleece jacket for her for upcoming trips.

Anyway, the trip taught me a lot of valuable lessons; first – I need to lose weight, both from my body, and from my kit.  I took some things I didn’t really need that weighed me down.  My knees and back were in modest pain the entire time, but oddly enough it wasn’t any WORSE while backpacking . . . I guess if the pain is going to exist anyway I might as well have some fun, right?

One of the most crucial lessons I learned was that “just a little extra food and water” weighed a lot, and that I really need to get better at “nutrition/hydration management”.  What this means is that I’ll need to make sure that I’m not stuck carrying any more crap than I’ll need until the next re-supply.  That “what-if I get stuck and need to survive” scenario just isn’t going to happen.  Even if I do get hurt I’ll only be stuck there for a day or two; hell with my body-fat I could survive there for weeks.  I’d just have to crawl to a water source.

So, as I write this I’m actually in the process of coming up with a proposed itinerary.  From there I’ll be able to roughly calculate each day’s hiking distance and factor in “zero/nero” days, plan resupply/maildrops, and have a rough guide for the times I want to stay in a hotel when I pass close to some towns.  As I’m doing the math & extrapolations I have this voice inside my head that recites that adage:  “a plan is worthless but planning is everything”.

It is what it is . . . the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley.

I was a highway man . . .

I was a highway man, along the coach roads I did ride; with sword and pistol by my side. ~ The Highway Men (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson)

It’s the eve of my 10 day shake down backpacking trip, in preparation for my hike of the AZT.  I’m “joining” a friend on his through hike.  I put “joining” in quotations because I’m not really going to hike with him.  In fact, I’ll probably only see him at the beginning trailhead.  If I see him again it’s because he will have taken a zero day.

I’m scouting 7 segments of the trail.  From passage 22 starting in Sunflower through passage 28 that ends at the junction with the 87 on top of the Mogollon Rim.  It’s only 110 miles and I’m doing it in 10 days; plenty of time, I hope.  From what I hear the segment over the Mazatzals are brutal – the scrub brush is overgrown and there is deadfall all over the place.  The Arizona Trail Association (ATA) is planning a work party for a week in May to clean it up so it should be beautiful by my big push.  But not this time.

There is one segment that I’m very excited to see though; it’s a segment JUST on the other side of Pine, Arizona.  I helped build a couple mile segment that made it easier to get off the Highline.  There are a few segments that I worked on by my lonesome and I think they’re beautiful.  I wonder if they held up.

I’ll be sure to take photos of the trail as it is now.  The trail will change, however – it always does.  I read somewhere that there are very few original segments of the Appalachian Trail.  Over the years it’s been diverted or modified in some way.  So, while I’ll be hiking this particular segment now, it’ll be completely different my next time.  Same, but different.

I guess that happens to the people that walk it as well?

Rehab and training

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

As I plan my attempt to thru-hike the Arizona Trail this fall I am forced to consider myriad topics – gear, water & nutrition, injuries & pain management, navigation & pace, resupply, gear repairs/replacements, and the inevitable mental challenges that all long distance hikers face.  They all deserve considerable attention.  In truth, those obstacles aren’t what I’m worried about.  It’s my body.

You see, I’ve added a few pounds over the years.  In addition I have some nerve and structural issues in my back and lower legs.  It appears that years of hard living (football, Marine Corps, mountain biking, gravitational-assisted earth impacts, etc) followed by inactivity leads to chubby, broken people.  I’m worried that my body just won’t take the abuse, injuries notwithstanding, despite my mental & intestinal fortitude.

The reason I’m most fearful of this outcome isn’t because I will have failed, but because I will have failed a long time ago when I decided to live plushy.  I have no doubt in my mind that I could prevail over the mental challenges and loneliness; but to be physically incapable of finishing, not as a result of injury, is a reflection of myself.  It speaks to my ability and desire to take care of myself.  I believe that one of the cornerstones to happiness is a thriving physical existence, as far as your body can take you.

I went to a massage therapist who specializes in structural issues of the human body the other day.  She was a professional – she asked a series of questions, made me do some basic movements then flopped me on the table and began prodding.  She was surgical with those fingers!  The short story is that after 90 minutes of poking she’d released a multitude of issue points.  I feel better today than I have in months.  The changes she made make it possible for me to actually exercise; before it was a self-inflicted torture session.

It was never a question of whether or not I was going to attempt the hike had I not stumbled on to this therapist.  It was more of a question of how bad was it going to get.

Living vicariously

Mike left last week for his thru-hike of the AZT.  I’ve been following his blog (Protect the AZT) and it appears he’s having the time of his life!  Sure, there are already challenges, but conquering them is half the fun!  Anyway, it was a real education watching him in his last few days of planning.  The experience was great for two reasons: first, I was able to watch someone in planning mode during the final days prior to departure.  The second was because I really was able to think about how I wanted to serve the hiking community.

Mike had attempted the hike last year but Murphy decided to tag along; he was forced, for various reasons, to bail early on in the attempt.  It’s probably a good thing though, because if you read his account of the incident you’ll realize that he hadn’t planned properly.  The opposite was true this time around and I was able to benefit from his learning experience.  In fact, by living vicariously through him during the 6 days he was here was invaluable!  In fact, I learned about two awesome spots along the trail that I hadn’t originally counted that can be counted on for resupply.

The most valuable lesson was coming to the realization that I would love to run a thru-hiker basecamp and help others achieve their dreams of completing the AZT.  I’d been thinking about something like this for a while but it wasn’t until Mike stayed with me that I was able to really put the idea to paper.  I’d been doing casual research on the subject as I read stories of hikers on other trails like the PCT and AT.  I’d also read horror stories about hikers gone wild.  I wasn’t sure how to make it all work, but this week I came up with a plan.

So, I posted my ideas on a few Facebook pages and within minutes I had two people that were interested.  At this point you’re probably thinking “how awesome; you’re going to do great”!  Well, my first thought was “shit, now I have to figure out how to price this so I’m not losing money or wasting time”.  So, I did what any smart business person would do and I made up some pricing that sounded reasonable and sent some estimates.  Since I haven’t heard back from them I’m not sure how well they liked it.  Live and learn . . .

Anyway, to make a long story less long I’ve outlined what we’re going to provide – a base camp, in-town supply shuttles, border drop-off/pickup, gear receiving, and a few other small services.  We have a great property, centrally located, with ample camping spots and a 15 passenger van.  It’s a start.

The best part about helping hikers is that I get to hear the stories.  A person can learn a lot about themselves by just listening to others’ tales of chasing dreams.

 

A dry run – literally

When someone says they’re going to “thru-hike such-&-such trail” you’d assume they’d done some research on said trail, right?  In my case, you’d be right.  Back in 1996 when I heard about the Arizona Trail (AZT) I immediately conjured up this idea that I’d hike the entire thing in one long push.  I thought I was on the cutting edge of something – walking long distances.

The whole “Edward Abbey” thing aside, come to find out there’s this whole community of people that do this kind of thing – they’re aptly called “thru-hikers” and apparently these cretins are everywhere.  As I started doing some research I learned about these huge, long-distance trails – there are three very popular trails in America; there are quite a few more, but the “Triple Crown” is the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).  The shortest of these three (AT) is 2160 miles and the longest (CDT) is 3100 miles.  By contrast, the AZT is about 800 miles.

I’m the kind of person that gets excited about things.  As I started my research I came up with a grand plan – I was going to do the AZT first, then the AT, the PCT and finally the CDT.  I was going to do them in succession!  I didn’t even give second thought to the fact that I had obligations, a company, a wife . . . all of whom probably wanted a chance to provide input into my plans, but that’s a whole blog entry in itself.  Anyway, I now had a mission.

My first step was to read as many of the biographies as I could get for free from Amazon Prime; there were a few.  Then I started purchasing books; there are many.  I spent about 2 months reading about 15 books on the trials and tribulations of thru-hiking.  To make a long story . . .less long, the underlying current of the books was that these thru-hikes are a struggle, both mentally and physically.  It took a decent amount of intestinal fortitude to complete these hikes (among other things like enough time, money, permission, etc).

I must admit that my first thought was “I’m a former US Marine; I have the mental ability to conquer this hike!”.  My second thought was “I’m a beer lover; this is going to be painful”.  Not going without beers, that’s going to be easy (I’ll bring scotch); it’s that I’m a bit chubby right now.  The good news is that I’ll burn far more calories than I can carry so I’ll lose some weight.  I hope.

This week I’m sending off a new friend, Mike Cavaroc from Free Roaming Photography.  He’s going to document the segments of the Arizona Trail that are the most at-risk from encroachment.  Anyway, he’s staying with me for a few days as he’s getting ready to launch.  I get to enjoy the excitement as he plans his meals and mail drops, checks his gear then re-checks it again.  I can sense a duality about him too.  On one hand he’s hopeful and excited, but on the other he’s naturally apprehensive.  The physical and mental challenge is daunting enough – he knows that!  It’s the unknown that really weighs on a mind – there are more “what if” scenarios than there are answers.

I guess, in the end, that’s what pulls me.  That unknown factor.